I’m a bad plant mom!

“Vintage” stock plants grown from seed.

These “Vintage” stock plants were seeded December 31st. They’ve required care and loving attention, space and lights since then. When they came into bloom February 22, some were planted in a decorative pot and allowed to settle in for a few days.

When an evening arrived with dinner guests coming, I moved the pot to the front door to greet our guests with a bit of early spring color. It was a lovely, clear evening and we had a wonderful time with good food and conversation, something we’ve had little of these past two Covid years! Cleared the table after the guests left, put the food away, and headed to bed. Sadly, it wasn’t until the next morning I remembered I should have brought the pot back indoors.

Poor babies didn’t have a chance at 24 degrees F. They are goners and will not recover.

And remember those lovely baby yarrow plants set out a couple of weeks ago?

“Summer Berries” yarrow planted, surrounded by newspaper and mulch.

After they were so carefully planted, some crates that were stacked nearby were overturned to protect them.

Oops! One crate short….I’ll get it later….(famous last words!)

When I added the crates, I was thinking more in terms of providing shade and some protection from the wind. The next morning, when I went to check on things, I realized I’d make yet another mistake. They didn’t mind the 24 degrees F at all, but they DID mind the rabbits!

Three are GONE, one on far right has a bit of growth still intact, so it may recover!

Obviously, I need to be more consistent with my clipboard job list, so things like this don’t fall through the cracks. I can blame it on aging, being too busy, getting interrupted mid-job (because in fact all those things are true) but the fact is mistakes happen, despite our experience, our good intentions, or even being highly organized. I could beat myself up, and I do feel upset…for the plant, for the lost opportunity, for the lost flowers that could have been, for the time and energy wasted, but I’m not going to dwell on it. It’s GARDENING, and things just happen. Much of it is beyond our control, and sometimes especially in the rush of spring, we just try to juggle too much. I don’t have any more yarrow seedlings to replace them, but now there’s space for something else, and certainly more than enough plants that will be happy to have that space.

The message, especially to new gardeners is that even experienced, very experienced gardeners have failures once in a while. It’s not the end of the world, especially if one learns something in the process. So, carry on, replant, rejoice that you can be in the garden with singing birds, blooming bulbs, sprouting seeds, greening grass! S##t happens; think of it as compost!

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Spring has arrived!

First blooms in the “Blue Garden”

I posted this photo on Fb earlier this week, and many responses from “locals” was “It’s too early!” After all, it is just mid-March, but checking my bloom journal for the prior three years the spring blooms are actually right on schedule. And, it’s NEVER too early for me to see those first early blooms of the year!

And, these weren’t the first blooms because the snowdrops, tiny as they were started off the season on February 23. As eager as we are, Hoosiers in north central Indiana recognize that even though snowdrops are in bloom, Spring has not yet arrived.

The first blooms were just harbingers of Spring!

But the crocuses weren’t far behind, opening their first blooms on March 2 and weren’t the bees thrilled to find them!

“Cream Beauty” is always my first crocuses to bloom.

I’ve planted a variety of crocuses in the gardens to extend their bloom period. The species crocus C. chrysanthus “Cream Beauty” are always the first to bloom. The chrysanthus come in a variety of colors, and I’m thinking of adding some lobelia blue ones called “Blue Pearl” this fall. A mixture from ColorBlends called “Vernal Jewels” blooms next (3/6) They don’t list the species name, but the white ones bloom first, followed by creamy yellow and pale lavender. C. sieberi “Tricolor” comes next, opening on March 16 this year.

C. sieberi “Tricolor”

The “Tommies” or C. tommasinianus are next. The one I grow is “Lilac Beauty.” Some people claim the “Tommies” are not dug up and moved by squirrels as readily as the other crocus, but I haven’t kept close enough records to be able to verify that. The winter aconites are next to bloom in my gardens, although I know in some areas they bloom earlier.

The earliest winter aconites!

Isn’t it interesting that so many of the early spring bloomers are bright yellow? Maybe so the bees can find them easily? Crocus, winter aconites, daffodils, dandelions!

The top photo of this post shows the first hellebore (a single pink that was supposed to be peachy salmon) some iris reticulata in a luscious blue, and far right, more Tricolor crocuses. For some reason, the iris reticulata there blooms in dense shade well before the ones shown below which are in full sun!

Love these little irises.

As a side note, the potager’s interior border lost lots of perennials this winter. See how bare it looks? All of the hollyhocks rotted, hardly any snapdragons overwintered. Most of the feverfew has disappeared, along with a lot of the tall blue salvia and anise hyssop. It was just too wet for too long, and there was no insulating snow cover during the coldest periods.

The dark purple are large-flowered crocus; the blue are iris reticulata

About the same time the iris reticulata are at full bloom, the large-flowered crocus begin to open (3/20). Most of mine are the very deep purple, which are grand multipliers, but I rarely see them listed in catalogs except occasionally as part of a mixture. I hurried out to take this photo last evening, before big storms and four days of rain arrive to beat the petals. I fear their show may be brief this year.

And yesterday, the first daffodils opened, the dainty Tete e Tete! There are lots of daffodil buds forming on other varieties so it won’t be long before the picking begins.

Small, but mighty!

The daffodil bloom signals the start of major vegetable planting: peas, shallots, onion sets, and seeding a wide range of greens. I can’t wait to get started, but apparently I’ll need to wait for this major storm period to pass and a couple of nights in the upper 20’s are coming up so there’s no need to rush. I certainly don’t want my precious shallot bulbs to rot, and the peas will just lay there complaining until it warms a bit. So, it’s back to transplanting in the basement and working on the post project for most of this week. What do you have planned?

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Six on Saturday: The planting has begun!

The greenhouse is packed, and messy!!!

There really wasn’t a choice. The basement space is packed; the greenhouse is packed and yet there are hundreds of seedlings down there still needing their own personal pot! So, as soon as the weather cooperated in the least bit (that is, temperatures that rose above the single digits, teens, and low twenties) the planting began. Plus, I’m experimenting to see how early I can get flowers for the “Growing Kindness Project” bouquets. First were the ranunculus, who love colder temperatures.

Happy ranunculus!

The ranunculus were pre-soaked and pre-sprouted in the basement. The root systems were bigger than my hand on several corms when they went into the ground so I was pleased. Hopefully that will mean lots of big, beautiful flowers in a few weeks. They went into a raised bed with hoops and light row cover and seem to be very happy after a few days in the ground.

Then came the snapdragons, stock, and sweet peas which can also tolerate colder weather. This was my first experience with doing snapdragons in those little 3/4″ soil blocks, and I was totally surprised at how well they did. Definitely a game changer for me. An old gal CAN learn new tricks! I wasn’t as happy with the stock in soil blocks, but they did well in the row trays initially and then were transplanted into a plug tray. Extra work, but when space is the biggest issue and time is not, it was the best method for my situation. The sweet peas were seeded 2 seeds to a 2″ pot, pinched at 6″ and planted cheek to jowl.

Sweet peas “Mammoth Choice” will climb the trellis. “Madame Butterfly” Snapdragons top two rows, stock “Anytime” center row and more snapdragons bottom three rows fill 5d.

These plants were only minimally hardened off, spending a couple of hours in partial shade with just a bit of breeze for a couple hours two mornings, then moving to the greenhouse with a fan and open door, and now in the ground. But, notice the hoops and floating row cover which went on as soon as the planting was completed in bed 5d. It will allow the plants protection from full sunlight and wind until they get established and the temperatures settle more. This actually acts as a hardening off period.

This may look like the same bed…but it isn’t!

Across the main path, bed 5c also got sweet peas on its trellis and a row of stock in the center, but there are “Liberty Bronze” snapdragons on the left and “Benary Princess” asters on the right. You can see that the hoops and row cover extends over all three beds, 5a, 5b and 5c. I wasn’t sure about planting the asters out this early, but a flat of plugs in the greenhouse showed absolutely no effects of a 24 degree night in the greenhouse so out they went!

Another bed of stock.

There weren’t quite enough plants to finish this bed, but there is another flat or three of stock coming on that will finish that row, and on the far left will go a row of annual phlox that just need to get a bit larger before going outdoors. I switched from the potager beds to another job that really needed to get done.

A new bed dug and planted!

While the soil was perfect for digging, and before the next rain arrived, these “Summer Berries” yarrow plants needed to get in the ground. The plants were set, a few layers of newspaper fitted around them and a layer of mulch were added. These are on the end of one of the former berry rows that are currently planted in daffodils.

So that’s six crops planted in Mid-March (maybe it’s March Madness, but we’ll see!) 1) Ranunculus 2) Snapdragons 3) Sweet Peas 4) Stock 5) Asters 6) Yarrow!

If you’d like to see what other gardeners come up with for a Six on Saturday post, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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Raised beds

Last year’s mini tulips edging the center path…hoping they will return.

I love my raised beds. As soon as the idea of a potager began to emerge, there was no question that raised beds would be a major factor. There had not been many raised beds in my prior gardens, but even that very small bit of experience had already convinced me that raised beds are much easier to tend and keep tidy. In addition, they can easily be much more productive (mine produce three times the produce in less than half the space and work of traditional row gardens.)

I can harvest peas long before my neighbors with row gardens!

Raised beds allow me to work in the garden much earlier and often, because the soil thaws and dries out much quicker in spring. There’s no tilling and very little digging except to harvest root crops. And, as I’m aging it is readily apparent that the raised beds are much, much easier on backs and knees. I can work longer in my raised beds than I can in my “normal” in-ground gardens. If I were doing my garden over I’d definitely do raised beds again. I’d probably do 8′ long beds rather than 6′, because lumber comes in 8′ lengths so it would be more economical to do 8′ beds. However, there has been one problem with my wonderful raised beds…

What a bother!

Broken corners! Yes, broken corners are my biggest headache. No matter what wood glue is used, no matter how many nails or screws are used, after several seasons Old Man Winter with his freezing and thawing and heaving pulls the corners apart. And as soon as the corner slides open, the soil begins to move. Every spring there are a few corners that need to be dug out and re-screwed. It’s a real bother. The only good thing about it is that it gives me a purposeful job to do before I can really “garden.” Any nice day when the soil in the beds isn’t frozen I can be out playing carpenter. But, after seven years some of the corners are getting so rotted that re-screwing is no longer an option. They just won’t hold together. Thankfully there is a solution!

Hurrah! A remedy!

In researching possible solutions, I found these sturdy metal brackets from Plow and Hearth. (Note: I did not get any reimbursement or discount for mentioning this product!) They are exactly what I needed. They are easy to use and I think quite attractive! They not only hold the boards securely, but they have a “lip” that goes into the ground to keep the bed in place. I believe they will add several years to the life of each bed. And, when the boards do eventually need to be replaced, the screws can be taken out and the bracket can be re-used on a new bed or to repair another corner on an older bed. They aren’t cheap (about $10 per bracket) but with the price of lumber these days, and the hassle it takes to repair a corner, and the additional years of use they will provide, I think they are well worth the price.

I had calculated that I would need to replace six beds this spring. And there were several corners on others that had parted. However, with the new brackets only two beds really require replacement and all the corners on the others can be repaired with a bracket. Four brackets are much less than the cost of the lumber for a bed so I’m feeling like a winner.

I love it when a problem gets resolved, don’t you?

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February: Monthly review

One of the few sunny days in a dreary month!

Let’s just begin the review of February by saying that we received only 31% of the possible hours of sunshine for the month. I didn’t even know such records were kept until our local weatherman reported it at month’s end. There were a couple of big snow events and frigid temperatures.

I suspect even the Winter Fairies went South for the month!

To keep myself busy, I started the indoor project of making the new decorative posts for the Front Garden. It has been fun, and time-consuming, both of which are good things in such a dreary, depressing month of Arctic blasts, snowstorms, wind advisories and international devastation. The garage heater ran almost constantly, with single digit and even below zero temps several nights.

Making progress!

Seeding went according to schedule for the most part. Fifty-four varieties were seeded in February: sweet peas, lupines, lots of cold-hardy annuals in winter seeding jugs, onions, peppers, strawflowers, more stock, calendulas, lunaria, phlox, asarina, fava beans, dahlias, more snapdragons, gomphrena, cherry and grape tomatoes, basils, talinum, sweet alyssum, and a few cold-hardy vegetables. I’m seeding lots of small batches to work out timing for unfamiliar crops, and to just “push the envelope” as much as I can for earliness. Some crops may be lost, but that’s okay if I learn something in the process.

The light stand is old, but still functions fine.

Transplanting is also on schedule. One thousand six hundred and seven babies were put into pots. Of course, a lot of the plants that were seeded into soil blocks or directly into individual cells (like sweet peas) won’t be transplanted but will go directly into the garden beds as soon as the weather allows. However, with the increase in the number of plants this year, I had to purchase two additional lights and found two more lights in the storage area that were put into service, making space for an additional eight flats of seedlings. Not surprisingly, a couple of seed packets jumped into my cart along with the lights…some purple zinnias, just in case there are not enough purple in the mixes and some tall shasta daisy seeds. This year, I’m experimenting with transplanting some plugs into crates, allowing the plants to get established quickly rather than waiting for ground to thaw in the raised beds. We’ll see how that works out, but so far I’m thinking it’s going to give blooms lots earlier for dianthus, snapdragons and ranunculus. They get moved outdoors onto the patio off the basement for an hour or two on any day above freezing that doesn’t have gusty winds. Watering generally took an hour a day this month.

Some plants get to enjoy the outdoors on the few nice days in February. Move them out; move them in; move them out; move them in! Hardening off is a necessary process.

The dahlias were divided and potted, a week earlier than last year so hopefully they will bloom a bit earlier. I wanted to get them finished before the new dahlia tubers begin arriving. And the greenhouse was given a tidy so that as soon as the weather cooperates plants can be moved in.

Fortunately, the Winter Olympics and basketball filled hours of television viewing, simultaneously filled with cutting plastic jugs into plant labels, making plant signs for the garden club sale, and searching for some new recipes to utilize the jars in the pantry. Seldom do I just sit and watch the tube empty handed.

Tiny, tiny snowdrops, but so very welcome!

The first snowdrop, that first bloom of the 2022 season opened on February 23. And finally, on February 26 the weatherman forecast an ENTIRE week of temperatures above freezing, even at night! So, I made a new job list, was able to dig some leeks, parsnips and carrots, tidied up some of the raised beds, carried compost pots to the compost bins. Still too wet to do much else outdoors, but I did pick up more walnuts and carried more pots and flats to the basement.

All in all, it was an okay month. There was lots of progress in seeding and transplanting, one post was nearly finished, more amaryllis bloomed indoors and the snowdrop popped up outdoors. Normally, that would be making my blood surge with energy even on cloudy days, but the situation in Ukraine and the continuing Covid worries just seem to sap a lot of that energy and make it difficult to sleep. Praying for peaceful solutions, but not holding my breath…..

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And the winner is….

“Terra Cotta Star”

With an astounding 11 blooms, this second year (in my possession) “Terra Cotta Star” amaryllis is the winner! At least so far! This photo was taken early, before most of the blooms were fully open just so you could actually see all the buds well enough to be able to count them.

more open….

A few days later, it now looks like this…big, beautiful blooms shouldering against one another, each one absolutely perfect! What a wonder these bulbs are! So easy, so carefree, demanding so very little other than a little water, some part shade in summer, a couple of months of slumber, and then magic! A wonderful gift of color while it’s still bleak outdoors!

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Someone Took a Joy Ride!

Two downed pine trees!

Someone hit and knocked over the neighbor’s gate post, swerved across the road and demolished a mailbox and then careened across our driveway and knocked over one of our pine trees that lines our drive. They must have been going at a high rate of speed because hitting the tree didn’t slow them down. Nor did driving over and breaking off a second tree, which they dragged about 50 feet before they crossed our driveway again.

Good thing those trees weren’t any bigger!

After crossing our driveway, they swerved to the right, just missing a utility pole by inches!

Not often we wake up to a tree in our driveway!

I wonder if they knew they were heading toward our slope?

It’s nearly straight down fifteen feet!

They must have landed bumper first. There are a few parts laying in our ditch. How they managed to get out of the ditch and continue on their way is a puzzle. Must have been momentum! So be on the look-out for someone with a crunched front end, missing bumper parts and tufts of pine needles in their grillwork! Buy them a cup of coffee…they had a rough ride! At least they missed the Front Island garden!

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Spring is creeping in!

Snow again…but not much!

Yes, I know. It’s still officially winter, but the positive bubbles within me are beginning to rise. Yes, we have snow again, but it’s just a tiny skiff and the sky is blue, the days are getting longer and when there IS sunshine it is stronger. But, if you need to be convinced here is some further evidence!

Giant white alliums pushing through!

During a walkabout, these “White Giant” alliums were spotted in the Front Island. I don’t recall them being among the first early risers before, but there they were!

Crocus emerging, too!

Not surprised to see these little crocus emerging in the Front Garden, because they definitely are among the first of the early risers in spring. I was a bit surprised to see that last year, according to my journal, they were at this stage on January 24th, so this year they are already a month later!

Not plant related, but the solar lights along the Front Garden have been frost heaved and wind blown over. I would have straightened them up, but they are frozen in place, and the ground is too frozen to push them in even if I could have released them. Looking at all the brown mulch, it’s a little hard to believe it will be a carpet of color in just a few weeks, but it will happen…it WILL happen! Faith, cricket!

“Angelina” sedum

Around the house to the Deck Garden, the golden foliage of “Angelina” sedum captures the eye. This is such a durable plant, and so pretty year-round even here in our Zone 5b Indiana winters. I love it as a ground cover, but it is even more valuable as a trailer in sunny window boxes, where dry conditions often make other plants suffer. This patch is getting too large and crowding its tiny mini iris neighbors, so I’ll be digging some of it for containers and the garden club plant sale. But, we are here searching for signs of spring…

Looking a little thick…I should mark this patch for dividing after bloom.

Daffodil tips are peeking through the leaves that have gathered at the inner corner of the Deck Garden. No idea what variety they are, but I’ll try to remember to identify them and put a marker in that clump for dividing after they bloom. If daffodils get too thick, they begin to flower less and less. When I take some out, I’ll fill the empty space with compost and that should give the ones remaining a boost. There are thousands of daffodils and tulips in this sloped garden, and I can hardly wait!

So cute already!

Also in the Deck Garden near the sidewalk, the adorable little “Tete a Tete” daffys are pushing through. I moved this clump from the Fairy Garden for last year, just to have some earlier color in an area that I pass daily and they were the very first daffys to bloom, on March 20th. Eager to see when they bloom this spring. And finally…….

The first outdoor blooms of 2022!!!

Hurrah! The very first flowers to bloom outdoors in 2022 are these tiny, tiny (only 2″ tall!) snowdrops. They bloomed for the first time last year, and I was hoping their short stature was because they were first time bloomers. Alas, they are still just as short, but I’m so thrilled to see them I hardly care. Last year they flowered on March 6, so they are much earlier and I can see several tips of more nearby. Hurrah! The 2022 Bloom Journal has its first entry!

So that’s six plants showing that spring is indeed on the way, which qualifies for a “Six on Saturday” post. If you’d like to see what other gardeners across the globe are finding in their gardens, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

Winter may still have a grip, and more surprises to come, but I take heart that the flowers are still there and ready to strut their stuff anytime we get a bit of warmth between the freezes. Spring IS creeping in, leaving small hints of the glory to come! Have you been out searching for signs of spring? I hope you find some, because it really raises the spirit and sparks energy. Happy Saturday!

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Winter Project

Not impressive now, but wait…..

The Front Garden needs something new, a focal point, and I’ve decided an adaptation of Jim Charlier’s decorative posts will be just the thing! If you don’t know Jim, you’re missing out on one of the most dedicated and talented gardeners in the U.S. Read his book, or visit his blog Art of Gardening or best of all go see his beautiful garden in Buffalo, N.Y. You’ll be inspired! I certainly was.

My posts will not be exactly like his, because I’ve decided to make them hollow, rather than using a 4″ x 4″ solid post. The plan is to pound a short metal fence post into the soil and slide the post over it. That will make it easy to bring indoors for the winter, and also if I get really ambitious to change them out over the season. If winter continues, I may have time to do one in colors for Halloween and maybe even one for Christmas. I’m hoping that is not the case and that spring comes early, but with snow on the ground again today and temperatures falling outdoor work may continue to be delayed.

I also decided to make the center post a bit larger than his, so it is 6″ x 6″. As you may be able to tell, I’m using a corner of the basement where I seed for this endeavor. See the bag of ProMix in the top photo? First step was a trip to the lumber yard, which was a real eye-opener! I didn’t realize how much wood prices have increased since I purchased boards for replacement raised beds late last fall. So, I only bought wood for the first post, plus some nails and wood glue. The post went together easy…2- 6″ x 6″ boards opposite one another, and 2 4″ x 4″ boards to make the rectangle. Since I had to buy 8′ lengths, there was plenty left after cutting them at the desired height for a top piece.

Next was paint! Another sticker shock experience! Fortunately there was some leftover green paint in the garage that was still usable, but most of the rest were the wrong colors or dried out. A white primer was needed, and I wanted a buttery yellow and soft orange/salmon to go with the house’s brick and the flower colors already in the garden. A quart of exterior paint is nearly $30!! Whew! So, I’ll definitely be making more posts because that paint can’t go to waste! The photo is just the first coat, but I’m already having fun and it gives me something to do besides being tempted to order more seeds and plants! And you can see that the worm bin and a chair were pulled into use temporarily because I needed the crates that were holding the post in the first picture for those dianthus seedlings shown in the last blog post! I’d use my saw horses, but they are holding up a shelf in the greenhouse already. I think I can find a couple of plastic tubs to use instead. Once the base coats are on and dried, then the design work can begin. I’ve sketched out a half-dozen different combinations, so it’s time to decide on the final plan. Such fun!

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The Last Pepper!

“Sweet Apple Green” bell pepper

Farewell to the last of the 2021 pepper crop eaten fresh, the “Sweet Apple Green” bell pepper pictured above. This variety from Seeds N Such has become one of our favorites for its sweet flavor, thick walls, and bright chartreuse color. And of all the various pepper varieties grown and stored, the last dozen or so peppers left were all “Sweet Apple Green,” so they appear to be the best keepers. I’m always please with their productivity as well.

Dozens and dozens of peppers were picked just before frost and put in single layers in web flats lined with a single layer of newpaper on the bottom and stored in the garage. Normally the garage is unheated, but there is a small electric heater that comes on if the temperature drops close to freezing, and on nights when the forecast is for single digits or below zero we also leave the ceiling lights on to help. There’s too much produce (all the winter squash, pumpkins, shallots, onions, cipollini, potatoes…not to mention hundreds of jars of canned goods!) to allow any freezing to occur!

Peppers are used as needed, beginning with any showing any spots or damage. Once those are gone, those that begin to wrinkle are used next, and on and on until the final pepper is consumed. Like the final tomato, the final pepper is both celebrated and mourned.

But, do not fear! We will not go pepperless through the rest of the winter, and through the spring “hunger gap” before the pepper plants that are already started in the basement begin producing for there are dozens of packages of diced peppers and pepper strips in the freezer and jars of pickled peppers on the shelves.

The first pepper, an heirloom Fehr Ozon was picked on June 21, the last “fresh” pepper eaten on February 21st, so there were 8 months of fresh peppers from our Zone 5b potager. Not bad, not bad at all! But of course, plans are in the works to make it even better!

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